Introducing more pets into your home takes time, space, and patience
By Greg Presto
When Lara Kretler worked as a spokeswoman for Iams, bringing home new furry friends to mingle with her houseful of animals was just part of the job.
“People would just drop them off at the company, and expect the pet lovers who worked there to take them home,” she says. “And we did.”
The tabbies and terriers kept tallying until Kretler’s four-bedroom home in Dayton, Ohio, was bursting. With three dogs, three cats, and a parrot, it seemed like she couldn’t walk out the door without tripping over a new pet. And then one day, she did.
“We literally found [a] ferret out in the woods on a hike,” she says of animal number eight. “She had tattoos as if she had come from a good breeder, and looked hungry, so we brought her home.”
While not every animal lover is a budding pied piper, lots of guardians will do the math and think, “One pet good; two pets twice as good.” But adding another dog or cat—or rabbit or guinea pig or lizard or ferret—is more than just throwing the critters in a room to have at it. As Kretler—and vets, trainers, and animal-rights folks—can attest, committing to new and different pets is a whole slew of obligations in one.
“You have to put a lot of thought into whether this is the right time to bring a new pet into the family,” says Nancy Peterson, an issues specialist at the HSUS. “Some people travel a lot, or they know they’re going to be moving. Is that going to be a problem? Are you looking to change jobs pretty soon?”
There’s also the issue of space: Like people, animals get along better when they’ve got some space of their own. If you’re adding a cat or dog or supplementing them with caged pets, plan to give each of your roamers a room of his own.
“Cats are actually more territorial than dogs,” says Kellyann Conway, director of animal training and behavior for Florida-based PetsIncredible, a division of Animal Planet. “But you should give any new animal [his] own personal space to get away.”
Have the special spaces ready a few days or weeks before the new arrival to avoid shocking the system of your existing pets when a space is suddenly forbidden, says Houston-based trainer Jim Burwell. “If the room’s suddenly off-limits, your pet’s going to associate the new pet with that lost freedom,” Burwell says. “Start setting boundaries early.”
Everyone’s got a place to lay his paws or claws, so it’s time to come home and mingle, right? Not so fast. Getting animals acquainted in the home can unleash more of those territorial instincts, says Marty Becker, an Idaho-based veterinarian and frequent guest on Good Morning America.
“Don’t do it somewhere that they eat or sleep; find a neutral spot,” he says. “If you can, introduce them outside your home, at a park or in the yard.”
For those who can’t get everyone outdoors—or for indoor-only animals—Becker recommends starting a scent exchange with a towel.
“If you wipe down a group of cats with the same towel, then that sort of reestablishes the scent of the pack, makes them all smell the same,” he says. “They can be more agreeable that way.”
Another agreeability tactic for cats and dogs that both Becker and PetsIncredible’s Conway recommend is pharmaceutical based.
“There’s a product called Comfort Zone that releases a dog-appeasing pheromone that can relieve a lot of anxiety,” Conway says. She also recommends Feliway, a feline version that provides the same effect for cats. “I always encourage people to use a product ahead of time so it’s in the environment creating the relaxing effect. Exercise can also help relieve that anxiety.”
When it’s time for introductions, Conway says, take a Let’s Make a Deal approach. In other words, behind door No. 1…
“Do a scent exchange through a door,” she says. “If you see that there’s interest but no growling or hissing, you’re ready to introduce them while the dog is on a leash and the other animal has an escape route. Allow them to sniff one another. Open the door a little, then close it and walk away.”
The last part—walking away—is crucial, she says.
“Make it a slow, friendly process,” Conway says. Increase the length of exploration visits gradually over the course of weeks, and encourage supervised interactions for at least a month. “Don’t give up too early. Some cats can take up to four or five months to warm up.”
Even after your pets are well-acquainted, it’s important to respect their predator-prey wiring.
“You stop watching, and that small pet can be dead in the blink of an eye,” Becker says of households with birds, lizards, or other small animals. “I had a client with a multi-species household that had never had any problems. But the bird flew in front of a dog’s mouth and it was snapped right out of the air. End of story.”
If there’s a dog in the house, training can help prevent, or at least minimize, any hiccups in inter-pet relations.
“If your household dog is trained in ‘off’ or ‘leave it,’ you can always introduce animals that will be compatible with your dog and know the dog will listen,” Burwell says. “You can redirect the inappropriate behavior if canine instincts come out.”
Keeping the instincts in check can come down to another of Burwell’s words: compatibility. Remembering how animals feed in the wild can keep all your friends safe.
“The only near-miss I’ve had was with the parrot and ferret,” Kretler says. “I never thought to have those two interact. The bird ended up in the ferret’s mouth, and could have gotten really ugly if I wasn’t there. But that’s what [ferrets] eat in the wild: birds.”
Introducing your four-legged children to your newborn two-legged one
Bringing a baby into a houseful of pets can be even more complicated than assimilating a new pet. But it’s not impossible. Nancy Peterson, the issues specialist at the HSUS, recommends planning ahead.
“What you don’t want to happen is the moment the baby arrives, the animal is banished from the room. Then, the baby is bad news to the pet,” Peterson says. If your cat is used to your lap, get him used to lying next to you. Walk your dog on dry runs with a stroller.
Training all over the house is a sound idea.
“Dogs don’t generalize well. ‘Sit’ and ‘stay’ in the house aren’t the same as ‘sit’ and ‘stay’ outside,” says Houston-based trainer Jim Burwell. He says when introducing and training your dog around a baby, do it all over the place to help him learn. “That way, ‘off’ means ‘off’ no matter where the baby is.”
Get her nose in it.
“When the baby is born, [take] blankets that smell like the baby, place them on the floor, and teach the dog to stay away from [them],” Burwell says. Helping your pets learn the sounds and smells of a newborn before the birth can ease transition, too, Peterson says.
Baby and Bowser is a two hour seminar for expecting parents who want to learn how to integrate a newborn into a household with pets.
Baby and Bowser seminars take place regularly at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. To sign up for the class visit NMH.org or call (877) 926 4664.